Eric Accepts USCJ’s 2015 Shoshana S. Cardin Leadership Award
November 16, 2015 // Eric Leiderman
Respected Rabbis, United Synagogue Leadership and the Shoshana S. Cardin Leadership Award Committee.
I am humbled as I stand here before you to receive the Shoshana S. Cardin Leadership Award. Thank you for awarding me this honor.
When my friends and I started Masorti on Campus our goal was to empower college students and strengthen traditional egalitarian communities on campuses across North America. As we continue to grow, our vision resonates with young adults across the continent. Our goal is to be on every college campus where there are progressive and intellectually curious Jewish students who would like to hold the center!
As the demographics of American Jewry changes on a whole, it is our responsibility and duty to make sure that the young adults of today, tomorrow, and for the decades to come, have access to the intellectually honest Judaism that Conservative Jewry represents.
We do a phenomenal job raising children. We raise them to have strong Jewish identities, to have a love of Torah, our traditions, devotion to social justice, commitments to Israel and community. These are the values we have today, and these are values I want to instill in my children.
I accept this award not just for myself but for all of my peers who are not only prepared to, but are organizing and leading their peers in creating halachic, egalitarian, and pluralistic kehillot in their respective communities.
You may be wondering how a twenty something millennial college student ended up standing here today.
After 11 years at the Moriah School of Englewood, a prominent Northern New Jersey Orthodox day school, I chose to attend the Heschel School in New York City for high school. Though intensely Jewish and infused with the teachings of its namesake, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, it has become known for being a pluralistic school. My classmates came from homes spanning the denominational and observant spectrums.
I thrived in that environment.
Beyond my formal schooling, I found my home away from home at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Having been a camper and staff member during my religiously formative years, Ramah is where I learned what it means to live as a Conservative Jew:
Living in a community where it is not only okay to ask questions, but it is encouraged. Where engaging with text does not just mean understanding the P’shat and Drash, but rather how to incorporate it into your life!
By the time I was in my senior year of high school, and college applications had forced me to memorize my social security number, I knew that I was not going straight to college. At my high school’s gap year fair I remember the flashy brochures from Kivunim, and the great sales pitch from Year Course, but the program that stood out above all, NATIV: The College Leadership Program in Israel.
Simply put, Nativ is amazing.
Its balance between structured program and freedom to explore Israel puts Nativers in such intense social situations that even pledging a fraternity cannot match the intimate bonds that are forged.
For the first time in my life I was truly able to learn Torah Lishma, learning Torah for the sake of learning Torah, in the Beit Midrash of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. While I had some amazing teachers in high school, the Rabe’im and teachers I had at the CY were like no other. Introducing me to topics like biblical criticism and texts like the zohar. Unbelievable.
When I learned about the CY’s winter break program: Tam’u U’ru — taste and see — I jumped at the opportunity. Returning to Jerusalem and Beit Nativ, I was reenergized without even knowing I was in need.
This brings us to why I helped start Masorti on Campus. Today’s Jewish campus life is saturated with various Orthodox outreach organizations. Yet for those of us seeking egalitarian Jewish learning environments the field was quite bleak.
By hosting Shabbatonim and bringing together like-minded college students, we have proven that not only is there a need but there are amazing student leaders working on campuses across the country.
That is what keeps these communities together: Steadfast leadership.
In the spirit of classic Biblical examples, Moshe, who led the Israelites out of slavery and was their leader, advocate, and father figure for 40 years in the desert, on the eve of entry into The Land, he seamlessly transferred the reins of power to Joshua.
Joshua took on the challenge and was accepted by the community, he did not waiver from his mission. Just as Joshua was mentored to be the nation’s next leader, so to my peers and I are building the skills to lead a revitalized Conservative Judaism.
The challenges are vast, the landscape will change, but the mission remains the same. Our global community will not just endure but will be stronger and more dynamic.
Thank you for this honor.